Now that they have made it to the camp and found his father still absent, off in the bush with a group of laborers and lumberjacks, the boy sits quietly in the corner listening to the rain and waves, attentive for any sounds that could mean trouble. He watches as his mother attends to the most immediately pressing problems. Behind a silk screen she removes her travelling clothes and pulls on a white lace gown. Her next necessity is a drink; she pours the whiskey, a neat two fingers, and drinks down half of it in the first gulp. She sighs and makes her way to the other side of the room, smiling at the serious boy and his restless little sister before she winds up the gramophone and music fills the cabin.
Little Shirley is unhappy, crying and fussing on the floor, she stretches her chubby arms out towards the soft white vision that is their mother. Mother gulps down the last of her drink and dances a few steps around the room before twirling towards the toddler and swinging her up into her arms. Little Shirley squeals with delight and leans her curly head against her mother’s shoulder. They waltz around the room, their voices raised sweetly in song.
Like Jack Horner, in the corner. Don't go nowhere, what do I care? Your kisses are worth waitin' for
Clad in silk ribbons and ivory buttons, they are elegance, they are sophisticated femininity, they are a contradiction in this old wooden shack with its leaky roof. Mother keeps singing, her voice made sultry by the whiskey sipped from a crystal tumbler. The sound of her song weaves around the music of the gramophone and the laughter of Shirley in her arms. The joyful noise slips between the cracks in the walls and out into the logging camp that surrounds them. The sweetness of them mingles with the rough sounds of men living in the bush. It melts into the sounds of the waves of the northern ocean and the dull patter of raindrops on wood.
The boy, still serious, thinks of the waves and the unknown men. He imagines them and all the other dangers crashing against the cabin walls. He squares his shoulders, sitting taller, watching the women he’s been assigned to protect, picturing the gun that is already loaded and tucked under the bed. He thinks about how much time it would take him to pull the weapon from its hiding place if the doors burst open. If wolves and bears and bad men were to set upon them, he knew he could have that weapon out in an instant. Pop would be proud.
His mother has always been an enigma among women, refusing to be left behind in the city. Every summer she insists that she be brought to the bush, where she can dance barefoot across dirt floors and swim naked in moonlight when none are watching. She has never known fear, not in the cities or in the woods. She is oblivious and bold.
His sister, a joyful toddler laughing in her mother’s arms, has never been to the lumber camps before. As an infant, she was left behind last year, kept safe with the house servants in the city. It is her first time in the forest, and she doesn’t know to be fearful. They are his to guard, here, deep in the north pacific rainforest, miles away from the parlours and parties of North Vancouver. He will be brave and mindful for all of them.
The boy senses the change before he hears it, a shift, something different in the sounds of the men. The waves keep on crashing in their regular rhythm and the raindrops tap with the same regularity, but the murmurs of the men have changed. The boy is on his feet in a flash, the gun is raised to his shoulder, levelled confidently at the door.
“Clay?” His mother asks.
The boy does not answer. He aims the rifle, cold steel held steady, waiting for movement. He is ready for whatever will come next. He stands on knees that tremble, a shield between the women and the outside, ready to do his duty as a man. The shadow of something makes its way around the cabin, though there are no windows set in the walls, he can see the passage of the creature in the chinks between boards; he can hear it in the men’s voices. Something is coming for them.
His finger tightens on the trigger, ready for action as the door pushes open. Before the boy can react to the dark figure on the threshold, Mother reaches down from behind him and plucks the rifle from his small shaking hands.
“Hush now, Clay. It’s just Pop.” She meets Pop at the door with the rifle in her hand and a sultry smile on her mouth.
Clay feels the fear fizzle out of him. He has been relieved of duty; for the moment he can be just a boy again.
Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Rob Gregory